jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
Monkfish, however delightful and distressing and delicious, most likely ought to be avoided. I'm displeased that we sell it. Besides being overfished, they're bottom feeders and thus caught by trawlers, those weighted and dragged nets that devastate the ocean floor, destroying life and habitat indiscriminately.

Instead, I recommend oysters. They increase the surface area in the bodies of water where they live, which creates more homes and hiding places for other aquatic creatures, and act as natural filters, removing pollutants and harmful algae. A healthy oyster bed can filter a bay several times over in a day. Unfortunately, pollution and aggressive overfishing have resulted in dwindling wild stocks, leaving the ecosystems of which they are a vital part ever more vulnerable. The wild caught ones can be harvested using methods as destructive as the catching of monkfish, but unlike most commercial fish farms, the side effects of oyster farming are overwhelmingly positive. Supporting this sort of aquaculture supports the health of the bodies of water from which they are drawn. And, as it happens, we're at the height of the oyster season now. Try some. Few luxuries lend themselves quite so well to environmental activism.

Steamed Oysters
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
In creating the world, evolution, that god multi-limbed beyond reckoning, saw fit to create the oyster, to take a sharp, bastard little rock, and to fill it with food. Yesterday an older gentleman asked me to shuck a few for him, and, in his infinite wisdom and kindness, he tipped me fairly extravagantly for the service. In his honour, I'd like to tip my hat to the oyster once more.

I've told you of their lovemaking. To review, here we have gender-deviant molluscs who engage in orgies massive enough to influence entire ecosystems. Good. Now, if I may, I'd like to speak a bit about the eating of them.

The most ancient of human settlements found on earth thus far are marked by mounds of shells, opened and bearing scars, the evidence of some of our first experiments with tools. The lure of flesh has been the spur of the mind of many species to breed intelligence at the same time that the chemical properties of protein itself are required for the development of more complex brains. Shellfish was, I imagine, a reasonably reliable source of the stuff in a time when exceptionally few things were reliable. They are old allies. We owe them much.

Remember in eating an oyster, please, the hands that opened it for you. Despite all of my less than cautious waving about of knives, oysters are more likely to hurt me in my toiling than nearly anything else. Opening them involves pressing a blunted knife into a small crevice between their two shells and twisting. Oysters, as I mentioned, are sharp, and the knives are likely to slip and wound. I nearly always have a gash or a transitional scar on the flesh of my palm or on a knuckle as a result of their affections. I don't mind it. I'm speeding their death; the scratch is only fair. (More fair, perhaps, if it was worn by the one who would devour it, but then why would the world need fishmongers?) But remember when you drink one that it is most likely the result of a blood sacrifice. Be kind to your servants, and appreciate the fact that we've suffered for you. When was the last time someone young, and perhaps attractive, and maybe a bit rough bled for your account? Taste it, along with the salt.

It's hardly the only sacrifice. The oyster represents one of the few creatures that the human beings with whom I associate swallow live, and whole. I recommend meditating on that before taking one, really savouring the fact that you, at that very moment, are about to take a life, and then perhaps to take another five or more. Taste in its wet flesh the fact that this little god will die that you might live. The resulting endorphin rush alone is worth the price.

This brings us to the taste: their flavour depends largely on the waters from which they were drawn, and thus, in sampling oysters, one can tour the brackish waters of the world. They're salty things, and fleshy, and if someone were to tell you that it doesn't remind them, pleasantly I hope, of fellatio, then they're either liars or Puritans.

My fellow fishmongers and I swallow them illicitly in the back room. We'll open them all together, or one of us will be kind enough do the honours for the others. It's spectacular: the help, filthy and rushed, gathering in a circle for a stolen moment, for the sacrament, for the pleasure of it. We take them with borrowed lemon and cocktail sauce or we'll take them as they are, exploring their charms and faults, the nuances that set them apart from their kin. I've been served oysters by a pretty boy in a restaurant nicer than anything I deserved. They were delivered to me on a bed of sea salt, big coarse grains in a mound across the plate. I've tasted them in a bar in New Orleans, opened by old, dark, swift hands. He shucked six dozen in the time it would take me to whisper my way into nine, and I am, if I may say it, reasonably skilled.

Enjoy the flesh you taste tonight, my darlings, whatever form it may take.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
Parker bought me an antique sewing machine, a New Home, still attached to its table. It still works. The pedal is on the side, meaning that it is meant to be pushed with your thigh. It all folds up into itself, modest as well as beautiful, like all technology should be. You'd barely notice the hinges if you didn't know what was hidden inside. I've spent the morning looking at it and reading Swinburne.

Even were my new pet not A PERFECT MACHINE, which it is, I'd recognize the advertisement as a great literary achievement. I've found ridiculous late Victorian praise poetry to the New Home in the style of the epic, and I've confirmed that its makers, being, as they were, wise in all things, possessed truly magnificent facial hair.

Today I also read about the lovemaking of oysters. When the oceans warm in early summer, eager young males open their shells and release their seed into the sea. When they've gotten older and their energy stores are greater, these same oysters can take on the task of becoming female, thus jettisoning huge numbers of eggs into the waters. If, for some reason, an oyster which has become female needs to reserve its strength, it can revert to male and later change again, and again, if it so chooses. Oyster beds can cloud the waters of entire bays in their spawning. I encourage you to take from this tale what morals you will. As I'm sure you've noted, this method is not entirely dissimilar from my own, thereby proving that oysters and myself are equal in our wisdom, sensual nature, and willingness to give oneself fully to the poetry of simple chemistry.


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August 2009

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